On average, almost 50 shops a day are disappearing from UK High Streets, according to the BBC. More than 8,700 chain stores closed in British High Streets, shopping centres and retail parks in the first six months of this year, research suggests. This comes as eCommerce sales skyrocket, and the world continually shifts to a more digital lifestyle. This has been enticed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as shops closed due to lockdown, and people desperately relied on online retail to buy goods/services. This has been evidenced as Debenhams recently shut all of its physical stores, and is now instead primarily online, also being owned by Boohoo since 2019.
The Local Data Company tracked more than 200,000 stores operated by businesses with more than five outlets across Great Britain. These include everything from retail and restaurants, to cafes, banks and gyms. Although 3,488 stores opened in the first six months of 2021, the closures were far greater. A total of 8,739 shops shut creating a net decline of 5,251 outlets - a huge number, but 750 less than this time last year. Fashion retailers also recorded the biggest decline reflecting the collapse of Sir Philip Green's retail empire which saw his brands, including TopShop and Dorothy Perkins, disappear from the High Street. More than 120 department stores also shut over the same period.
This trend is attributed to COVID-19, with a massive spike in online sales as consumer habits have changed drastically during the pandemic, to favour sites such as Amazon. However, many businesses have gone under for good, with another reason constituting to this being the crippling supply shortage.
Many businesses have been complaining about the UK's shortage of lorry drivers, as have lost many customers who have been told that their products will be indefinitely out of stock. James Bielby (chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors), said there were "chronic" staff shortages throughout the food and drink supply chain, with up to half a million vacancies. These vacancies have once more been enticed by the Covid pandemic, Brexit and tax changes, which particularly impact foreign drivers, which now constitute a lack of 100,000 qualified drivers.
This shortage creates a break of the supply chain, and without the logistics to ship produce, goods become supply inelastic, at least in the short term, and firms cannot get the product to where it needs to be. This has been very prevalent, especially for SMEs, which depend on each transaction to make a profit, and many businesses have shut down as a result of this
There was also a decline in car showrooms, betting shops and banks, providing yet more evidence of changing shopping behaviour and the shift to online. This comes as many companies such as Cinch and AutoTrader shift online, and even deliver large items such as automobiles to your door. Data also shows that store openings were at their lowest level for six years. Leisure dominated the growth, with takeaway chains leading the way.
It is also said to be the city centres that are still suffering the most, declining faster than suburban areas which are being supported by people working from home. This can be evidenced even by a stroll up to your local high street, as many shop floors are empty, and lack demand from firms to invest here. London, for instance, has gone from being the best performing region for retail in 2016 to the worst for two years running. This is due to office workers working from home as well as a lack of spillover demand to the high street industry.
Retail parks have fared best of all. Many are anchored by supermarkets, DIY and furniture retailers which have all done well during the pandemic. This is due to the fact that they were deemed essential, and were a place for people to go out and exercise buying habits, even during the midst of a pandemic.
The customer traffic at these sites is almost back to pre-pandemic levels, showing how shoppers seem happier to drive to bigger shops, rather than visit High Streets and shopping centres in towns. This comes as a new era of shopping dominates the retail world, with people wanting ease over accessibility, with out-of-town department stores and outlets having everything in one place, combined with online shopping, now dominates the sale statistics, and truly reflects the modern world in which we live.
Written by Euan Taylor
Research compiled by Hubert Kucharski